A bowl of spicy black bean soup with brown rice and a slice of whole bread - it's comfort food rather than high cuisine. But the dish is rich in fiber and gets high marks for nutrition.
Fiber comes in many forms, such as beans, lentils, chickpeas, whole grains, brown rice, fruits and vegetables. And it's good for you.
For heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes - the five major killers in our country - fiber-rich foods have proven benefits.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that you eat 25 grams to 38 grams of fiber a day, depending on your gender and size. But you'll get what you need without counting if you eat a balanced diet with five or more servings of whole grain breads or cereals. The dish described above, for example, provides about half the daily requirement: 15 grams for a cup of beans, 2 grams for a half cup of rice and 2 grams for a slice of whole grain bread.
The average American gets less than that amount in a day, or only 12 grams to 17 grams.
Dietary fiber comes from the indigestible walls of plants-fruits, vegetables, legumes or grains. While these cell walls are edible, they resist stomach acids and make it to the bowels intact. Once known as "roughage" or "bulk," fiber has long been recognized for its role in maintaining bowel regularity, but only recently for its other health-giving qualities.
A study of 40,000 male health professionals and a related large study of female nurses found that subjects with a high daily intake of fiber had a 40 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease than those with the lowest intake of fiber.
Cereal fiber was found to be particularly beneficial.
For every 10 grams of fiber you add to your daily diet, your risk of dying from a heart attack is reduced by 27 percent, according to a more recent study published in the Feb. 23, 2004, edition of Archives of Internal Medicine.
One reason for the beneficial effect is that fiber reduced the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food. High-fiber foods also have a positive effect on blood pressure. And because they're filling and relatively low in calories, they play a role in weight control.
By slowing the absorption of food in the bowels, fiber also helps regulate blood sugar and insulin.
Nutritionists recommend getting fiber from a variety of sources, with ample quantities of the two types - soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber slows digestion and absorption and has been shown to reduce cholesterol.
Sources of soluble fiber include flaxseed, barley, nuts and the pulp of fruit.
Insoluble fiber, found in wheat bran, apple peel and most garden vegetables, does not dissolve.
This type of fiber is referred to as roughage or bulk. Its quick passage through the bowels reduces exposure to toxic, cancer-causing substances and may lower the risk of certain cancers.
Whether it's a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, a sandwich made with whole wheat bread or a bowl of black bean soup, fiber is there in ample quantities, giving you flavor, a satisfying texture and numerous health benefits.